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How to Buy a Boat for a Great Deal (And Ship It Once You Do)

Ready to buy a boat for a great price but need help figuring out where to start? The process involves research, inspections, negotiating, test drives, and potential transportation of your dream boat. It’s not an overnight deal and takes tremendous patience.

If you’re ready to buy a boat and want to streamline the process, start with a clear plan and defined checklist. Doing the proper research and knowing exactly what you’re looking for will make negotiating easier and can help you land a deal.

To get you started on this exciting journey, here are the top five things to consider that will help you land a deal the next time you buy a boat.

Figure Out What You Want

aerial view of boats - buy a boat lot

Boat Size & Amenities

It might not sound fun, but this pre-planning will help narrow your research time the next time you buy a boat.

You likely already have an idea or two of what your dream boat looks like. You may be an avid fisher and need space to take the whole family out every weekend. Or you’re passionate about watersports and need something with speed. A pontoon party boat may be your perfect escape.

Whatever your hobbies, passions, and interests are, different boats will serve each purpose with various advantages and drawbacks. So keep this in mind when conducting your research.

In addition to the basics like boat size, seating capacity, storage, and hull shape, think about any extra amenities you would want, such as covers, GPS, a speaker system, or built-in baitwells, to name a few. Put together a list of your must-haves and nice-to-haves and see how your options stack up, what’s realistically available, and their price tag.


Another important element to figure out before you buy a boat is your budget. How much are you willing (and able) to spend on your dream boat? There may be room for negotiation, especially on used boats and when working with private sellers, but keep a high ballpark figure in mind.

Go a step further and plan for the expenses of owning a boat. On top of your monthly payment, you will have insurance, maintenance, fuel, and storage costs. Life happens, so there’s always the occasional repair or upgrade to account for.

Be prepared for these costs on top of what you’ll pay when you buy a boat. Plan a monthly budget that includes all of these pieces, not just the boat payment.

Doing all of this will help you pick a price bracket that works for your budget and ensures there won’t be any unpleasant surprises after you get the boat home.

Do Your Research

Now that you know what you’re looking for, you can begin your market research. Online is a great place to start and gives you a more extensive search radius, or you could check out local dealerships. All of this allows you to see different makes and models and their prices at various ages and conditions.

This will also help you negotiate because you will have concrete numbers and market knowledge to bring to the table.

There are many online and in-person places to look for your dream boat, including boat dealerships, used boats listed on Craiglist, eBay Motors, or Boat Trader, private sellers, and local boat shows.

Pro Tip: Your instinct may be to buy a boat as summer approaches, but that could be raising the price. Instead, do your boat shopping in fall or winter as boat season has passed, but boat dealerships and sellers still need to move inventory. This could be the perfect time to buy a boat and land a deal.

Reach Out & Negotiate

Reaching out about a listing or contacting a dealership doesn’t mean you have to buy. Spark up conversations, express your interest, and see what boat prospects manifest. You might stumble upon your dream boat online immediately or work with a used boat dealer for a couple of weeks until they find you the right one. Patience is a virtue in this game.

This is also the point where it is important to ask for further details and request the boat’s records or history (if any).

Once your options are narrowed down, you can start negotiations, especially on used boats requiring repair or upgrades. Armed with your research, you will know if the price is worth the work later on or not.

Read some of our tips on restoring a used power boat if that’s the route you want to take.

Time for Inspections (And Maybe a Test Drive)

buy a boat test drive

See It For Yourself

If the option is available, inspect potential boats in person or, even better, take them for a test drive. This allows you to ensure the watercraft is in the expected condition.

If you want to buy a boat that is located farther away and need help seeing the boat in person, ask the seller to take lots of pictures and videos for you.

Marine Surveys

During boat sales, it is also common (and very beneficial) to conduct an appraisal survey that assesses the boat’s damage and market value. This ensures you are not getting ripped off or there isn’t more significant damage than expected.

Working with a third-party maritime surveyor keeps the sale honest and gives everyone involved peace of mind.

You can find accredited surveys through NAMSGlobal or the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors.

Invasive Species

Finally, ensure your potential new boat is free and clear of zebra mussels and other invasive species that can harm an ecosystem. Before transporting your new boat, it’s wise to research your local area’s rules and regulations around this issue. Many states require inspection, dry times, and certification that your boat contains no damaging species.

Don’t skip this step as you get ready to receive your boat. You could risk your boat being stopped mid-transport, and no one wants that.

Get It Ready For Transport

So you followed the first four steps perfectly and landed a great deal on your dream boat. Congratulations! This is cause for celebration! Except the perfect boat is located hundreds of miles away.

Don’t sweat it. With uShip, transporting your new pride and joy from wherever you buy a boat has never been easier.

Create a free listing to instantly connect with thousands of feedback-rated transporters who specialize in boat shipping. The best part? Transporters on uShip bid to get your business, ensuring you get a fair, competitive price.

Once you book the transporter of your choice, you can virtually coordinate with them. They will pick up, secure, and drop off your boat so it arrives safely and stress-free.

Prepare your boat for transport by following these steps.

Finding the right boat may take some upfront work, research, negotiation, and coordination, but it will be very worth it once you get out on the water and can enjoy all of your favorite activities in your dream boat.